Armenian church sues Getty museum over return of 7 pages ripped from Bible dating back to 1256

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Armenian church sues Getty museum over Bible pages

LOS ANGELES — The Armenian church has sued the J. Paul Getty Museum to demand the return of seven pages ripped from a sacred Armenian Bible dating back to 1256. The Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles. The lawsuit alleged the church had the Bible authenticated in 1947 or 1948 and it was returned with the pages missing.

It states the identity of the thief was never determined.

A spokeswoman for the Getty said the museum legally acquired the pages, which is known as the Canon Tables, in 1994 from an anonymous private collector “after a thorough review of their provenance.”

“A notable Armenian scholar who also was the primate of the Armenian Church of America acknowledged key details about the Canon Tables’ provenance in a 1943 article, including the fact that they were owned by an Armenian family in the United States,” spokeswoman Julie Jaskol said.

The seven illustrated pages by T’oros Roslin were once part of the handwritten Armenian Bible known as the “Zeyt’un Gospels.” The rest of the sacred book is located at the Mesrob Mashotots Madenataran museum in Yerevan, Armenia.

The church’s lawsuit contends the missing pages became part of a private collection of a family in Watertown, Mass. They were loaned to the Pierpont Morgan Library, now known as the Morgan Library and Museum, in New York in 1994 for an exhibition.

Michael Bazyler, a Chapman University law professor and member of the plaintiff’s legal team, said Thursday that attorneys hope the pages can be returned during negotiation rather than litigation.

“We contend these seven pages are stolen property, and they can never get title,” Bazyler said. “We are asking for the return of the seven pages back to the church.”

Jaskol, the Getty spokeswoman, said the ownership of the pages has never been questioned until now, and that “the Getty believes the lawsuit is groundless and should be dismissed.”

Bazyler believes this is the first case filed in the United States for the return of cultural or religious objects taken around the time of World War I, when historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks.

The event is widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

“It’s a matter of historical identity and preservation of the Armenian culture,” said Western Prelacy board member Levon Kirakosian. “It’s important everyone realizes that.”

will not be displayed